Smile, Radiologists

February 17, 2014

With decreasing reimbursement and increasing workloads, it can be hard to put on a happy face. But we should ask: Are we treating others as we want to be treated?

Not long ago a radiologic tech approached me and thanked me. I asked “What for?” She told me that it was nice to see a radiologist who was smiling. Apparently most of the radiologists she deals with don’t smile a lot.

I admitted that I probably smiled more because I only worked part time, and therefore had more to smile about. In reality, I have always tried to overcome my passive aggressive style and smile, at least, outwardly.

I am very sensitive to how I treat and interact with those I work most closely with. One of my several part time jobs in college was as an OR tech at a community hospital. It was an ideal position to observe the various styles of doctors. There were the yellers and instrument-throwers, the jokesters, among others. I concluded from my observations that yelling and screaming at people did not make people want to help you more or actually cause them to perform their jobs any better.

One of my clearest memories was of a bilateral leg vein stripping case that involved multiple surgery residents, a single OR tech whose unrealized ambition was to get into medical school, and myself as the circulator in the operating room. Bear in mind, these were the days when suture was threaded onto needles by hand, one at a time.

As expected, there was some competition amongst the residents as to who could complete their part of the operation first. Finally after having to wait more than two seconds for his freshly threaded suture, the chief resident yelled at the scrub tech, “[Expletive omitted], can’t you go any faster?”

At that point, my friend calmly and slowly put the needle carrier and suture down on the mayo stand and said in a clear and measured tone, “No, but I can go a lot slower.” Point made.

Later when I joined my first radiology practice, I learned about a partner who was downright mean to the techs when they called him when he was on call. One day I asked him why he treated the techs that way. His response: “My theory is if I’m nasty enough to them, they will think twice before they bother me.” The fact that it was their job to call him and his job to be called apparently wasn’t a consideration. That was his style.

There was a time in medicine that stereotypes of different personality styles seemed to fit different specialties. You know, those preferring less patient contact and sporting fewer people skills usually finding their way into radiology and pathology. Former jocks became orthopedic surgeons, and so on. Nowadays, those stereotypes don’t hold as well. We find individuals with many different styles in radiology and, indeed, medicine.

With decreasing reimbursement, increasing workloads, and increasing stress in radiology, it is difficult at times to smile and put on that happy face. Anybody can snap, and it is all too easy to lash out at the nearest targets, even though they are usually the people on our own team - radiologic technologists and department staff, who are under the same stress and are only trying to do their jobs which is, in fact, to help us do ours. It can be difficult but we all need to step back and ask ourselves, if we are treating others the way we want to be treated. What’s your style?